CFP AAG 2017: Advances in Analyzing Contextual Effects on Behavior, Practice and Experience

2017 AAG Annual Meeting, Boston (5-9 April, 2017)

Organizers: Mei-Po Kwan (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) & Tim Schwanen (University of Oxford)

Much of geographic and social science research is concerned with the influence of various contextual factors on human behavior, practice, and experience. Widely understood as the neighborhood effect in urban and health research, contextual influences on people’s behavior and experience were often analyzed using arbitrary and static enumeration units (e.g., census tracts or post-code areas), which may deviate significantly from the “true causally relevant “ geographic contexts and lack sufficient consideration of past contexts.

The spatial dimension of this problem has been recognized and recently articulated as the uncertain geographic context problem (UGCoP): the problem that findings about the effects of area-based attributes (e.g., neighborhood walkability, access to health food outlets, or social deprivation) may be affected by how contextual units (e.g., neighborhoods) are geographically delineated and the extent to which these areal units deviate from the “true causally relevant” geographic context at a given moment ( It is a significant methodological problem because it means that analytical results can be different for different delineations of contextual units (e.g., census tract, circular buffers, network-based buffers, or perceived neighborhood) even if everything else is the same.

There is also a temporal dimension to the problem of contextual causation: contexts from earlier times may still exert influence at later moments (e.g., during the day or during the life course) when physical proximity has been replaced by connectivity. Such relational effects have been described in many different ways (e.g., historical dependence, spill-over or life-course effects), but they remain poorly understood and their evaluation presents major methodological challenges. It is difficult to identify which, when, where and how past context(s) matters. Spatially uncertain contextual effects are mediated and often amplified by temporal uncertainties.

We seek to organize several sessions to further explore and deepen understanding of various spatiotemporal uncertainties in the analysis of contextual effects on human behavior, practice, and experience. We welcome papers from all geographic subfields and perspectives. Topics may include but are not limited to: (1) more accurate representation and assessment of the space-time configurations of environmental risk factors, individual daily mobility, and their interactions (e.g., capturing situational contingencies and real-time context with ecological momentary assessment; reconstructing the daily paths and activity spaces of individuals of different social groups using means like GPS, mixed methods, and qualitative GIS; and collecting and using high resolution space-time data of environmental influences and individual mobility); (2) examination of the differences between the UGCoP and the modifiable areal unit problem (MAUP); (3) exploration of means for mitigating the UGCoP; (4) conceptualizations of temporally extended and spatiotemporally uncertain contextual effects; (5) realistic representations of such effects using quantitative and mixed methods approaches; and (6) empirical examination of temporally extended as well as spatiotemporally uncertain contextual effects.

If you are interested in participating in the sessions, please send a short abstract of no more than 250 words to Mei-Po Kwan ( and Tim Schwanen ( by October 14, 2016. Please follow AAG guidelines for preparing and submitting abstracts at:

International time-geography days

A while has past since the last post, and a lot has happened. This includes not least the annual conference of the Association of American Geographers in Tampa (FL) in April during which Mei-Po Kwan and myself convened seven inspiring sessions on the ‘Geographies of Mobility’, in which geographers from many different hues — i.e. working from a wide range of theoretical and methodological perspectives and focusing on a vast array of topics — come together and learned about each other’s work.

More recently, 14-16 May, I attended the International Time-Geography Days at Linköping University, organised by Torsten Hägerstrand’s former student, professor Kajsa Ellegård, and her former student, Elin Wihlborg. They did a wonderful job in organising an excellent conference, and took us to the rural area around Åsby parish where Hägerstrand conducted the fieldwork for his PhD thesis (together with his wife). Nowadays Åsby is a peaceful — if ageing and still shrinking — community. It is quite hard to imagine now that this is the setting in which Hägerstrand began to develop his ideas about budget-space, Rum, and the competition between projects for space and time as scarce resources, all of which are at the heart of time-geography. Life in the Åsby area must have been much harsher some 50-60 years ago. Obviously, the fact that we as casual visitors — tourists almost — were visiting the area on a very sunny day must have formatted my perceptions as well.

Tucked away in boxes and on shelves in a back office somewhere in Linköping University can Hägerstrand’s books and notes be found. It was here that I made the following picture:








In a way the quote from Goethe typed up by Hägerstrand sums up time-geography quite nicely: “Everything that comes into being searches for space and will last, thereby crowding out something else from its place and shortening its duration“. Competition for space and time — the essence of time-geography as envisaged by Hägerstrand in the 1970s — articulated at its best.

Rethinking behaviour change with Dewey

The annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers ended two weeks ago but I have not been able to write about my experiences during the conference so far. This post will address the presentation I gave at the conference, where I was part of a very interesting panel on what pragmatism — the philosophical movement that emerged from the work of RW Emerson, CS Peirce, W James and J Dewey around the turn of the 20th century in the USA — has to contribute to contemporary human geography. I gave a paper on how the work of Dewey (and James) on habits can be used to rethinking existing conceptualisations of behaviour change in academia and policy with regard to mobility, energy consumption and in other domains.

The thrust of my argument was that Dewey in Human Nature and Conduct (1922) offers a useful perspective on behaviour change that can function as a corrective for prevailing conceptualisations in behavioural economics, social and behavioural psychology, and thinking on habits in sociology and geography. This is because Dewey strikes, perhaps more successfully than other thinkers, a genuine balance between body and mind: he refrains from privileging one over the other and avoids the risk of making too much (economics, psychology) or too little (non-representational thinking in geography) of reflective thought.

More specifically, Human Nature and Conduct understands habits as forceful predispositions to act and interact with one’s environment, and not as actual behaviour. As such habits are socially constructed, ecological (they are not attributes of an individual but distributed across individual and environment) and generative. For Dewey repetition is not the essence of habits; what is important is that they propel individuals into action. The key distinction is not between habit and (reflective) thought, but between routine habits and intelligent habits. Both entail mechanism but in quite different ways. Routine habits reflect the often inert and maladapted mechanism of the ‘mere technician’; it amounts to ‘enslavement to old ruts’. In contrast, intelligent habits  amount to the mechanisms of the artist which are infused with thought and feeling and which afford mastery of emergent conditions; the archetypal example would be the piano virtuoso. The implications of this way of thinking are that  habit and reflective thought are non-exclusive of each other, and that thought itself is habitual.

Dewey also offers an interesting perspective on how habits and thought emerge. Discussing this is beyond the scope of this post but suffice to say that, on a Deweyian view, an always changing configuration of habits allow people to move through the situations of everyday life in a more or less unthinking manner. However, the working of those configurations can be disrupted by problems thrown up by the ‘on-flow’ of situations of which individuals as bundles of habit become part. Habits of movement , for instance, are impeded when suddenly confronted with a forked road. It is at such moments that, triggered by ‘impulse’ or instinctive and biologically driven action, emotions surge and reflective thought (as a function of mental habits) emerges in a person. So, as in recent perspectives in the life sciences, the philosophies of AN Whitehead and M Merleau-Ponty and contemporary social theories of affect, reflective thought is not primordial to action but a consequence of how individuals interact with their environment.

The point of reflective thought, for Dewey, is to transform (disrupted) action, impulse and emotions into a new course of action and so create a new meta-stable equilibrium between individual and his/her environment. This may imply that previously created habits need to be updated or revised. And for Dewey the role of reflective thought in habit change is crucial as it alone makes durable change possible. Impulse and emotion are crucially important to behaviour change but their surge wears off over time in ways that does not (always) happen with reflective thought. At the same time, Dewey was adamant that emotion and thought are continuous. They are not to be thought of in dualistic terms, but as mutually reinforcing: thought powered by feeling is likely to be more effective in bringing about change.

What does all of this mean for thinking about behaviour change with regard to mobility and energy consumption? I believe there are two key lessons here. One pertains to education — a topic on which Dewey has written extensively throughout his academic career and for which he is arguably most well known; the other to change of the environment which gets incorporated in habits.

Dewey was clear that changes to the ‘objective environment’ were the only way to influence habit formation through policy and governance. On the face of it, this reasoning appears to support such initiatives as New Urbanism or road pricing policies to trigger behaviour change in everyday mobility. However, a Deweyian perspective moves us beyond  this. It is not enough to increase densities, walkability and public transport accessibility in general; the challenge is to start from the situations of ongoing activity: what were people doing before taking a trip? where do they want to go? what/whom do they need to travel with? etcetera. This means that the lessons from activity-based approaches to passenger transport and time-geography need to be taken serious and to the extreme. The focus should really be on how each individual trip is embedded in the lived experience of everyday life and on all the problematisations (where problem is defined in the Deweyian sense outlined above) one may encounter along the way.

With regard to education, a Deweyian perspective foregrounds the importance of helping the younger generations — society’s future — to learn mental habits and habits of overt action that differ from ours. They, first of all, need to develop the skills to low-carbon mobility. So cycling training where children learn-by-doing how to navigate complex traffic situations should be a key part of primary education across the Global North: today’s practical skills are tomorrow’s mental habits. All generations — but especially the younger for whom mental habits are easier to change — should also be stimulated to develop new mental habits. Educating them about the ‘unfreedoms’ and socio-environmental costs of automobiles would be one part of this; another would be to learn them to resist to think in silo’s about energy use. This would hopefully prevent the pattern of what behavioural economists call mental accounting and that can be observed in many users of transport systems (myself included) who walk and cycle extensively to access everyday activities and hence consider themselves to be environmentally conscious but who also treat themselves to one or more long-distance trips by airplane for holiday or leisure purposes and so increase their emissions of greenhouse gases far beyond those of people who use the car much more often and only make short-distance holiday and leisure trips by surface modes of transport. Clearly, then, the forms of education that can be derived from a Deweyian perspective on habit and behaviour change are quite different from the social marketing and attitude oriented approaches that would result from a behavioural psychology account.

Exploring all details of Dewey’s account of habits is beyond this post, and the same applies to all the lessons for policy and governance. However, I hope to have made clear that a Deweyian vision can usually complement existing thinking on behaviour change. I am sure I will be writing more on this theme in the future.

Call for Papers AAG 2013: Ecologies of Well-Being

Call for Papers, Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG), Los Angeles, California, April 9-13, 2013


Organised by David Conradson and Tim Schwanen

Well-being has attracted significant academic and political attention in recent years. Researchers in psychology, economics, public health and development studies have sought to conceptualize, measure and explain variations in well-being between individuals and groups. In the political arena, several western governments have commissioned reports on well-being, including France, Canada and Britain, and some countries are seeking to develop national well-being accounts.

Geographers are also engaging with well-being, both conceptually and through empirical investigation (Atkinson et al, 2011; Fleuret and Atkinson, 2007; Kearns and Andrews, 2010). To date, this work has included relatively extensive, quantitative investigations (e.g. Ballas and Tranmer, 2012) as well as local, more qualitatively oriented studies (e.g. Panelli and Tipa, 2007). A common thread has been an interest in the ecological determinants of individual and collective well-being. This is about how the ‘natural’, built and social environments as well as the cultural and spiritual context in which people are situated shapes their happiness, flourishing, health and capabilities.

Much of this work has significant policy implications (e.g. regarding greenspace and urban design). It also brings something distinctive to the established traditions of inquiry within social, health and medical geography regarding inequality, poverty, deprivation, exclusion and disease. At the same time, the connections between geographical work on well-being and critical thought regarding equity, governmentality and the global financial crisis would seem to warrant further exploration.

This session is an opportunity to continue the conversation regarding how best to understand and investigate the environments which support human well-being. We seek contributions that engage with but are not limited to the following topics/issues:

• Conceptualising ecologies of well-being

• The social and environmental determinants of well-being

• Well-being and place across the life course

• Mobility and well-being

• Flourishing and well-being

• Critical analyses of the contemporary western emphasis on well-being and happiness

• Approaches which integrate quantitative and qualitative analyses of well-being

• Well-being and (critical) GIS and spatial analysis

• Connections between emotional geographies and well-being

• Participatory research approaches that seek to support social and community well-being

• Cultivating spaces and practices of well-being: a 21st century necessity?

Please email a 250 word abstract and/or expressions of interest to David Conradson ( and Tim Schwanen ( by Friday 5th October, 2012.

Successful submissions will be confirmed by Friday 12th October 2012 and will be expected to register and submit their abstracts online at the AAG website by October 24th 2012. Please note that a range of registration fees will apply and must be paid before the submission of abstracts.


Atkinson, S., Fuller, S. and Painter, J. (eds) (2012) Well-Being and Place. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Ballas, D. and Tranmer, M. (2012). Happy people or happy places? A multilevel modelling approach to the analysis of happiness and well-being. International Regional Science Review 35(1), 70-102.

Fleuret, S. and Atkinson, S. (2007). Wellbeing, health and geography: A critical review and research agenda. New Zealand Geographer, 63, 106-18.

Kearns, R. and Andrews, G. (2010). Geographies of Well-Being, in The Sage Handbook of Social Geographies, edited by S.J. Smith, R. Pain, S.A Marston and J.P Jones III. London: Sage, 309-28.

Panelli, R. and Tipa, G. (2007). Placing well-Being: a Maori case study of cultural and environmental specificity. EcoHealth, 4, 445-60.

New forms of surveillance in public space?

It is more difficult to discipline myself into blogging, particularly at busy times, than I had imagined. Nevertheless, I still want to devote this post to the (draft) paper I presented at the AAG meeting last month in New York.

The paper I gave discussed a shift in the surveillance of public spaces that seems to be taking place in the Netherlands. The key idea was as follows: “As part of neoliberalisation, under the influence of shifting discourses and enabled by socio-technological developments, the Netherlands are currently witnessing a broadening of surveillance in public spaces from the government of others to ethical government of the self, which demands us to further rethink surveillance theory in human geography and beyond”. This is of course quite a complex sentence but what I tried to convey is this:

In various ways citizens are urged to monitor the behaviour of others and to intervene if they misbehave — for instance, when they bully or harass paramedics, police officers or other emergency service providers: In such a situation ‘good citizens’ are expected to ask others for help and come up to the perpetrator; call the national emergency number (112), stay with and give care to the victim; and make photos for the police and report themselves as witness. This at least is the central message of a media campaign launched by national government. And recent information and communication technologies are used in creative ways in this campaign. Not only is there a dedicated website (, only in Dutch) and are Facebook and Hyves (a Dutch social networking site) used to disseminate the message (and creative watchful subjectivities); the campaign also assumes that people have access to mobile phones equipped with cameras and deploys this notion to regulate public spaces. What is more, in the city-centres of Rotterdam and Amsterdam short movie clips are shown on large screens in public space, which combine real-time footage of public space with pre-recorded scenes in which ambulance personnel is attacked by a few youth. The effect is that people walking past the screen see themselves projected into the scene with ambulance personnel in real time. In this way they are directly confronted with the consequences of passivity and non-intervention among passersby.

What we see here is that video-technology is not so much used to keep people under surveillance, as with CCTV (closed-circuit television). Rather it is used only to induce a process of self-government in users of public spaces. That is, we see a shift from using camera footage to govern others to using video technology to trigger government of the self. Note that this is a relative shift, for self-government is also part of the CCTV logic. After all, a key reason for installing CCTV relates to its presumed preventative function. The idea is that potential perpetrators who see a CCTV camera will become less inclined to commit a crime, given that the ‘cost’ of undertaking that course of action increases (or is assumed to increase) when the whole situation is filmed. Nonetheless, drawing on the work of Foucault, we can still say that the balance or matrix of self-government and the government of others is different in the regulatory regime promoted in the recent media campaign vis-a-vis the more traditional regime centred on CCTV.

And this brings me to the final part of the key idea that I presented in New York. For if we, as social scientists, are to make sense of the regulatory processes that currently take place with regard to public space in the Netherlands, it is ever more important that surveillance theory is rethought with regard to the effects of watching and being watched. To use some more jargon, more attention needs to be paid to the subjectivities — the ways of being and doing — for the people who are watching and/or are being watched. The developments in the Netherlands make it clear that it is no longer adequate — if it ever was — to think of the people who are being watched as passive receptacles of the view of others. Nor does it suffice to think of watching and being watched in terms of domination and resistance (as with artistic or other protests against the installment of CCTV systems). Thus, thinking theoretically about CCTV and video technology in public space more generally needs to really move beyond Foucault’s panopticism and concepts that are directly indebted to this, such as counterveillance or sousveillance. Instead we need to embrace the thinking by Hille Koskela and others. Koskela has elaborated four ‘modalities of surveillance’ of which traditional panopticism and counterveillance are only two. One of the other two is what she terms ‘humble servants‘ and consists in public authorities mobilising the ‘eyes on the street’ to supplement official surveillance and so realise their political agendas around security. This, then, is the modality of surveillance that we currently see becoming more important in Dutch public space.

Unlike some surveillance scholars, I still think that Foucault’s philosophy is very helpful in understanding the humble servant modality (and other forms) of surveillance. In fact, the largest part of the paper I gave in New York was devoted to the following argument: Rather than moving away from Foucault altogether, we need to draw a wider set of ideas and concepts from his oeuvre and combine these with notions form (post) phenomenology. For understanding the humble servant modality we can use Foucault’s writings on self government and ethics very well. And if we combine this with the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Iris Young and Don Ihde we can even better understand the significance and consequences of the media campaigns of the past months in the Netherlands.


Geographies of wellbeing at AAG Annual Meeting

Next week the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers will take place in New York. This always is a highlight of the year, and the upcoming edition is particularly exciting as I am convening three sessions on a topic that I have become very fascinated by over the past three years – the geographies of wellbeing. The sessions are scheduled to take place on Sunday 26th February between 12:40 pm and 6:20 pm (local time) in the Carnegie Suite West on the third floor of the Sheraton Hotel. I am fortunate to have excellent speakers giving papers, including Sarah Atkinson, Jo Little, Sebastien Fleuret and many others.

The three sessions will each have a specific theme:

a)      Conceptualisations of Wellbeing – 12:40-2:20 pm (local time)
b)      The Benefits of Nature, Green Space and Resources – 2:40-4:20 pm (local time)
c)      The Importance of Everyday Life and Mobility – 4:40-6:20 pm (local time)